People are discovering the power of active nonviolence," began seasoned peace activist and Friend David Hartsough at the start of his "Report on the Global Nonviolent Peaceforce" on June 20 at Friends Center in Philadelphia, Pa. His hour-long presentation covered the background and recent developments in the creation of a Nonviolent Peaceforce—essentially a nonviolent civilian "army" that he and other activists first envisioned at the Hague Appeal for Peace in May 1999, basing it on the Gandhian Shanti Sena (Peace Army). The group’s vision is grounded in the concept that peace is not just the opposite of violence, but an alternative force that can transform conflict. Hartsough said he hopes to soon build a force of 200 full-time peacemakers, 400 reservists, and 500 supporters, and to increase these numbers tenfold by the end of the decade. He is executive director of Peaceworkers, a San Francisco-based organization that he says may serve as a "midwife" to bring the Nonviolent Peaceforce, whose endorsers include the Dalai Lama and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Oscar Arias and Rigoberta Menchu Tum, into being.
In the three years since the Hague Appeal, those involved with the formation of the Nonviolent Peaceforce have explored what role a large-scale peacemaking organization could play, discussing the question with other activist groups and researching the history of nonviolent peacemaking. The resulting mission statement affirms that the Nonviolent Peaceforce "will be sent to conflict areas to prevent death and destruction and protect human rights, thus creating the space for local groups to struggle nonviolently, enter into dialogue, and seek peaceful resolution." Recent accomplishments reported by Hartsough include the beginnings of a public relations/media campaign, business plan, and fund-raising work, as well as the creation of an international steering committee.
According to Hartsough, the steering committee is now in the process of selecting a pilot project for the Peaceforce, having narrowed ten invitations to conflict areas down to three possibilities: Sri Lanka, Colombia, and Palestine/Israel.
Hartsough said the Peaceforce is intended to be nonpartisan, "committed to justice," "beholden to no national interest," and "truly international" rather than "North-dominated." The Peaceforce would not serve as a savior to disparaging enemies, but would instead support the efforts of local peacemakers, at their invitation. Once involved in a conflict situation, the Peaceforce’s role would be to establish an international presence, provide space for local nonviolent movements to do work, protect civilians, and act as international eyes and ears, ensuring that those threatening violence would know that "the world is watching." Hartsough stressed the importance of early intervention in conflict areas, citing Kosovo as one location where such actions perhaps would have been effective, and expressed the hope that the Peaceforce can shorten the time between a first request for help and the arrival of peacemakers on-site. He added that the Peaceforce’s creators would like the organization to become "mainstream" through contact with members of Congress and retired military personnel, as well as through participation from nations in the Southern Hemisphere.
Currently, organizers are looking for partners all over the world to serve as representatives to an International Convening Event in New Delhi in November 2002, where the location of the pilot project will be decided. Hartsough reported that recruitment has begun and that the group hopes to enlist skilled and experienced people of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds and be able to pay them a living wage. A tentative schedule, Hartsough said, has training starting by March 2003, with the pilot project commencing in June or July of that year.
Attendees’ responses during the discussion period after Hartsough’s talk included comments in support of nonviolent peacemaking, suggestions as to how it could be more effective, and several questions indicating a concern that the creation of a new nongovernmental organization would not be effective due to the number of nongovernmental organizations that currently exist. Hartsough responded that the Nonviolent Peaceforce would not replace the work of other groups, but it would specialize in early intervention.
For more information on the Nonviolent Peaceforce, visit http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org.